Matt Johnson writes about contemporary slavery, a crime that should belong to history.
CARDIFF FAMILY PROSECUTED UNDER NEW ANTI-SLAVERY LAWS
Remember the headline? In 2018? To many, the word ‘slavery’ conjures up a picture of people in chains, abducted and forcibly transported against their will to work on plantations across the world. Today, in a town, a street or a home near you, modern slavery is taking place under our very noses.
Quite recently in the news, we heard about the Oxford and Rochdale cases which involved British girls trafficked within the UK for sexual exploitation. But, although sex trafficking makes the headlines, modern slavery is just as prominent in forced labour and domestic servitude.
Think car washes. Think window cleaners. Think children begging on the streets of the city. Think workers in garment factories and cannabis farms. People coerced to work in places not of their choosing, paid little or nothing, living in squalor, exploited by others for financial gain – it’s going on now under our noses.
During my research for my second book Deadly Game, I travelled to Romania to learn about the routes used to move young women from their villages to work in places where they think they are heading for a better life. This is one thing I learned that all victims share. They think they are heading to a better job, for a more interesting life or for an education. Whatever the reason, they all share one thing – they are travelling to something they believe is better than they are leaving behind.
In the UK, the slave trade was outlawed and abolished in the 19th Century. After that, a person holding slaves could be prosecuted for offences such as false imprisonment, assault and – in more modern times – under Health and Safety legislation.
It was only in 2004 that an offence was created of trafficking people into the UK for the purpose of forced labour, and it wasn’t until 2009, when the Coroners and Justice Act came into being, that an offence of holding a person in slavery or servitude was created. A similar offence also covers requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and, for each offence, our prosecuting authorities have to prove that the accused knew, or ought to have known, that the victim was being held or forced to work against their will.
Sex slavery isn’t a new concept to Europe. In World War II, the Nazis set up ‘Joy Divisions’ in concentration camps that were filled with young captive women. These brothels were frequented by both the soldiers and the co-operative inmates. Across Europe, the German Army also set up many ‘Soldattenbordell’ where local women were forced into providing unpaid sexual services in return for avoiding the concentration camps. Mass kidnapping raids were carried out in countries such as Poland, where young women were rounded up and then transported to become entertainment for the troops.
As the war ended, many Romanian soldiers who had been serving in the German Army returned to their homeland with an understanding of the money to be made by forcing women into the sex trade. As the forces of law got to grips with the criminal gangs, the method of providing girls simply changed from one of coercion to one of deception. In times of economic depression, hungry and desperate for paid work, it became easy to trick girls into applying for waitress, cleaning and other menial jobs in the cities. Once on the journey, the girls were doomed. It is no coincidence that most of the victims of trafficking are from economically deprived areas.
‘Trafficking’ is the answer I give to a question often asked at literary festivals – what contemporary subject do you think crime authors should be tackling? I hope, by telling the story of what is really going on we can raise awareness in people’s minds that slavery hasn’t gone away, and the chains on the victims, although less easily seen, are still very much in use.